Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Is the Code for Sustainable Homes dead? and COP21

How can a planning system be operated effectively when treated as a political football and made the subject of continuous change; new legislation (ie the Housing and Planning Bill 2015), tinkering with policy (ie review of the National Planning Policy Framework), together with ministerial statements, leave practitioners in both public and private sectors, those in NGOs and inspectors struggling to keep up to date and give accurate and effective advice to their clients,  councillors and supporters.

As we all know the Code for Sustainable Homes was wound down and then finally removed by the Secretary of State.  The Building Research Establishment (BRE) has suggested the form of a replacement.  Maybe nobody told the inspector who held the inquiry and reported to the officer in the Government Office who wrote the decision letter on behalf of the Secretary of State who imposed a condition requiring the development to conform to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3.  Should officers be looking through their bins to see whether there is an old copy of the CSH that has escaped the waste/recycling stream?  Should those involved in local plans be (re)inserting policies recommending or requiring CHS compliance? Questions, questions...

If the presumption in favour of sustainable development (see para 14 of the NPPF) and s39(2) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (a test of 'soundness' of a local plan), are taken seriously then the energy/water efficiency of buildings should be addressed.  Clearly Level 3 of a 6 point sustainability scale cannot be sufficient at a time when all new development must 'consume its own smoke' (see Appeal Decision APP/N2345/A/12/2169598) as a contribution to the reduction in carbon emissions implied by the recent COP21 agreement to aim for only a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature.  

The use of the CSH by the Communities Secretary could be an excuse for everybody else to return the energy efficiency of buildings (including aspect and power/heat generation) to planning control and not the preserve of Part L of the Building Regulations that does not equate to 'sustainable development'.  However, CHS 3 is clearly inadequate and decision-makers should be requiring CHS 5 with allowable solutions.  Obviously this would not please George Osborne who removed the zero carbon homes target from under Greg Clark's nose, but the Chancellor would have to repeal s39(2) of the 2004 PCPA, the Climate Change Act and amend the presumption in the NPPF to prevent planners and the lpanning system from helping with the job of complying with the national and EU targets and  now the earth saving aspirations of the Paris COP.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ten top tips

There might be time to squeeze one more post before 2016 as work is being carried out the latest consultation on further changes to the planning system and I am inclined to share my responses just in case others want to join in. However, I sometimes wonder whether it is worth recapping on past posts and listing some of the main points that need repeating.

1. Co-housing needs to be established in new and existing residential areas.  This is not just for those who are already looking to live in this neighbourly way but as a response to the need for more caring environments that are conducive to looking after each other rather than being stuck in the limbo between an isolated home, care home and hospital.

2.Co-housing again: this time as a response to the unsustainable level of under-occupation of the existing housing stock and on new developments replicating the existing housing mix rather than the average household size of 2.4 and falling.  There would be more than enough larger houses to meet that need relinquished by those choosing to downsize.  Planners should be supporting the sub-division of many of these larger houses to produce more smaller dwellings. All new larger houses should be designed to be easily and cheaply subdivided.

3. Housing land supply figures should be adjusted to account for the new dwellings being almost all two bedroomed terraces (although there could be a demand for some larger gardens and plenty of allotments.

4. Village farms or community supported agriculture should be  a feature in all local and neighbourhod plans.  Access to affordable land and associated housing should be promoted through using houses from all peripheral developments and land owned adjacent to the development site.  There was no such thing as 'affordable housing' until a judge decided that a house that could be afforded by somebody on local wages was materially different to one that was not. The same case can be made for agricultural land.

5.Self and custom building by individuals and associations of individuals should be promoted starting with the registers required by the Housing and Planning Act (that should include those wanting to be involved in agriculture/horticulture). Pressure will mount to grant permissions if the registered interest exceeds the supply of serviced plots.

6. Developers should be required to set up and fund car clubs open to new and existing residents aimed at making all new developments car neutral and avoiding a net increase in car use.

7.The national speed limit should be reduced to 55mph and 20mph in urban areas.

8. A million climate jobs should be created to put the country on target to reduce carbon emissions by 90% by 2050. The bulk of this reduction should take place in the early years starting as close to 10% per year as is possible - many in the business of improving the energy efficiency of the 80% of existing dwellings with Energy Performance Certificates of D or below.

9. Planning should be more supportive of on-shore wind and there should be incentives (including off-setting or allowable solutions) to utilise all existing roofs with suitable aspects for PV installations.

10.Please use all the opportunities offered by the system to argue for all the changes that would make new development 'sustainable' (ie consume both its own smoke and some of that emitted by existing development).  In the context of extreme weather conditions (including recent flooding), one readily available hook to hang an argument in responding to an application or local/neighbourhood plan consultation is Section 10 of the National Planning Policy Framework published in 2012 of which the Government is so proud,  titled "Meeting the challenge (nb singular) of climate change, flooding and coastal change.".  There follows advice about,'...radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions... and supporting the delivery of renewable and low carbon energy...this is central to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.'.  This is all consistent with the 'presumption' in the NPPF in favour of sustainable development.

Details of all the above have been set out in previous posts.  All have social and environmental upsides and little or no economic downsides.  Despite obsessive Government tinkering only a proposed step change in self/custom-building seems to have attracted the Government's attention, partly because the volume builders do not have the capacity to meet housing needs (those to be assessed in accordance with a model based on building almost all small dwellings).  There would also be a need for 'planning' (and to the DfT for reducing speed limits) to be returned from the Treasury to the Communities Department.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

How subsidising housing could reduce supply

So the Housing and Planning Bill is proposing that about 400,000 'starter homes' be provided that will attract a 20% discount on the purchase price (to under 40s) up to a maximum of £450,0000 in London and £250,000 elsewhere.  These houses will not be required to contribute to 'necessary' infrastructure (eg affordable housing for rent) through s106 or CIL. The discount to be paid back from any sale within 5 years.  These proovisions will be subject to change as the Bill passes through its Parliamentary process. The 20% discount will come from the Treasury ie taxpayers, and the danger will be, as with all demand side incentives, that it goes into the pockets of landowners and or developers.

We learnt from the previous Blog that the Government has confirmed that development sites must contribute to necessary infrastructure including affordable housing and this must be reflected in the land price.1 This welcome reminder, together with the starter home provisions could have serious repercussions for housing land supply.

Land having been bought on the wrong assumption that viability arguments would trump the need to provide the necessary infrastructure might now become stranded.  In these cases sites which would otherwise have provided starter homes will not come forward and the Government would have to look for even greater incentives to developers.  Meanwhile, on those sites that do come forward the LPA will be required to substitute 'starter homes' for purchase for some or all of the housing previously destined for social or now more likely affordable rent (at 40% and 20% discounts of market rents respectively).  The greater the number of exemptions from paying for infrastructure, the greater the burden that will fall on the remaining housing to meet these costs.  Whilst Berkeley Homes published results showing an average profit of about £115,000 per dwelling might suggest  that there is plenty of cash to go towards infrastructure (inc affordable housing), this might not apply throughout the industry and will be very dependent on when land is bought, banked and delivered. It would be very interesting to know just how much of Berkeley profits are attributable  to housing being allowed by LPAs (including the London Mayor) and Inspectors/Sec of State with less affordable housing than was 'required' by the current policies? The Inspector being challenged by Islington LBC accepted that requiring more than 14% affordable housing would threaten the viability of the scheme.

The fundamental question must be where key workers will be housed. Houses at 20% of market prices would be affordable in less than 5% of the Country without other substantial support from the taxpayers (eg Funding for Lending and Help to Buy). Meanwhile the number of houses at affordable let alone social rent is being reduced. At the same time as housing (including affordable housing) is being accepted in the Housing and Planning Bill as 'infrastructure', the ability of developers to deliver houses is being reduced.  And will developers be able to sell houses in areas where necessary infrastructure and key worker housing is not being provided?

It would not be surprising if housing supply including the provision of both starter homes and affordable/social housing are all suppressed as a result of the incoherent interference with the economics of housing 'demand'.  If supply is maintained this would have to be through inflating the prices of housing not affected by these policies.  Is this what the Government really intends?

 Meanwhile it is becoming clear that the forced sale of houses by Housing Associations funded by the sale of other social housing will result in a significant reduction in social or affordable housing that will not be made good by the 'Treasury' on the one for one basis promised.

All this could be foreseen by those following the pronouncements of Policy Exchange before its Alex Morton started working for the Government and presumably wrote much of the Housing and Planning Bill .

Monday, November 30, 2015

Energy policy: is it hypocracy or wilful blindness?

Just in case BusinessGreen is not on your reading list I thought that
this extract said it all (about profound and dangerous contradictions
in the Government).

 "I want the deal in Paris to outline the role that businesses should
play. We also need to give businesses long-term certainty for
investment, which is why an ambitious long-term goal is so important,"
the PM will say.

However, back at home the Prime Minister (that should be George
Osborne) has faced criticism for rolling back support for a wide range
of green technologies, including solar power, wind farms and last week
scrapping a £1bn competition aimed at commercialising carbon capture
and storage (CCS) technology.

On Friday, 10 of the UK's biggest businesses, including Tesco, BT and
Marks & Spencer, wrote to the Prime Minister warning these cuts have
knocked investor confidence in the low-carbon sector and calling for
him to deliver policies that will restore investor certainty.

The letter, also signed by Vodafone, Kingfisher and Thames Water,
argued recent moves to scale back support were increasing investment
risks for businesses. That would be a lot of Conservative supporters.

"Regular changes to environment policy undermine confidence in
investment in infrastructure of all kinds and impact on the UK's
ability to continue competing in the rapidly growing low carbon
sector," the letter warned."

Given the shambles and uncertainty that George Osborne has created in
the energy and climate change policy areas I can't see why anybody
would pay any attention to what his leader has to say in Paris?
(letter sent to Ed Vaizey MP)

Capturing land value

This is very important.  I had despaired of the Government  doing anything as obvious and sensible as to introducing a formula under which land allocated or permitted for development would be transferred at a (say) 20% enhancement of existing use value.   It seemed to me that an alternative, that did not require any change to law or policy would be for planning authorities to make more realistic assessments of what new developments should pay to meet the costs of necessary infrastructure, including housing.  And then comes news of the letter from the Communities Secretary to Islington LBC.

The government's letter came after a recent planning appeal decision where the inspector had refused planning permission on amenity grounds, but accepted the developer's argument that only 14 per cent affordable housing was viable because of factors including the price paid for the land. The developer could not demonstrate it had taken Islington's affordable housing policies into account when bidding for the site, and so the council set out the first step towards a judicial review of the Inspector's decision, by issuing a "letter before claim" to the secretary of state.  Islington was then sent a response from the government legal department which confirmed it is the secretary of state's "unambiguous policy position" that "land or site value... should reflect policy requirements".  The letter set out no explicit defence of the Inspector's reasoning and stated that the inspector's decision was case-specific.  The government argued that it was not appropriate for the council to bring a judicial review claim in this case because the Inspector had decided that planning permission should be refused.  The government directed the council to the 'alternative remedy' of arguing its position in respect of viability in future applications.  Hopefully this official advice from the secretary of state will put an end to the exchange of land at prices which prevent adequate contributions to necessary infrastructure - including affordable housing.  But what also needs to be argued is that means 'genuinely affordable' relative to local wages (as per the 1992 court case where affordability was recognised as a material consideration).

Housing as been accepted as 'infrastructure in the Housing and Planning Bill and, interestingly, Lord Bob Kerslake (at the 2015 Nathaniel Litchfield Annual Lecture) has also used the same framing;
 “What is required is for housing to be seen as a vital part of the national infrastructure and planned accordingly.”  He should have added "local infrastructure" where the needs are experienced.

He added that housing needs to be planned long term and across the political and economic cycles.   Housing supply needs to be “doubled” and it needs to be held at that level for “some time". See more at:  

Having seen one argument accepted I am still waiting for a significant speech or statement that identifies the level of under-occupation in the owner-occupied sector as the most unsustainable aspect of our housing system, and  a description of the progress that would be made by building almost all two bedroomed (terraced) houses; cheaper for first-timers and last-timers, quicker to build with less materials and labour, less wasted space, more energy efficiency and  more friendly (or is that the problem?).

Friday, November 20, 2015

Planning for reducing carbon emissions

The submission to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee looking at the economics of housing might be too much for a blog (but don't let that stop you) so I am posting the results of a back-of-an-envelope calculation about the contribution that planning could (and therefore should) make to the achievement of sustainable development. (eg s39(2) of the 2004 Act and also to benefit from the presumption in favour of sustainable development in the NPPF (a finding required by the judgement in Dartford – see previous). There are other complementary elements to sustainability but this post is dealing with carbon emissions.

Starting with the sectors identified by the Committee on Climate Change, estimating what their contributions are to carbon emissions and then the influence that could be exerted through the control over the use and development of land.

Sector                      Contribution                   Possible  %                           Reduction
          to whole                      reduction through                      to whole
                                                                       planning controls

Agriculture                 10%                                  medium <30%                     <3%
Transport                    25%                                  medium  <50%                    <12%
         -new                   10%                                  high       <100%                  <10%
        - existing             15%                                  medium <30%                    <5%
Generation                   25%                                  high       <80%                    <20%
Industry                        15%                                  low        < 5%                     <2%
Military                         ??%                                  none      0%                           0%

Total                                                                                                                   52%                                                                                                                                           

Given the scope for error and argument I would not stake my reputation (what’s left of it) on this figure being more than an approximation. However,  I am going to use it in support of a claim that  if planners took their duty under s39(2) seriously and insisted that new developments met the simple test of 'consuming their own smoke’, then about half potential carbon emissions could be avoided.

So by requiring residential and commercial buildings to be carbon neutral (or negative), that new residential development would be in (mostly urban) areas well served by cycle tracks and public transport (all other areas to include car clubs with electric vehicles), that solar farms, onshore wind and biogas plants are generally supported (nuclear is likely to become irrelevant due to cost) and the affordable land and housing is provided in the urban fringe (inc Green Belts and Garden Cities), planners would have done their bit.  There should also be requirements to upgrade existing buildings when any new ones are allowed and a national speed limit of 55mph would reduce carbon from transport by over 30%.
The remainder would be down to technology, import and procurement policies, removing coal and scaling down gas and disbanding the military. The point about including the military is that any carbon emissions will have to be off-set in other sectors if targets are to be met.

In the light of the UK Government reset announced by Amber Rudd on 18 November and the absence of any effective policies to deal with the excessive emissions (ie short of EU legally binding targets and our own 4th and now 5th carbon budget) in respect of transport or heat (inc hot water), the planning system should be applying itself to expediting a transition to a low carbon economy.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Housing and Planning Bill

At the risk of testing my readers beyond endurance, a relatively short blog is now followed by a very long one.  However, this blog could be of help to those minded to contribute to the debate on the Housing and Planning Bill that will conclude at the beginning of December.  Feel free to cannibalize these submissions in any way that you feel could persuade the Parliament to concentrate on passing legislation that will help in the provision of the right number, of the right type of genuinely affordable homes.

Housing and Planning Bill 2015

I am a land use planner with over 40 years experience of working in public, private and voluntary sectors. I have also provided training in planning to property lawyers and taught planning at Oxford University Department of Continuing Education as well as offering private classes.  I make regular contributions to the trade magazines and newspapers and maintain a blog at  If I have particular expertise it is in the legal basis for planning preparation and implementation. I have also been heavily involved in the current discussions about self-building and co-housing.

1          Introduction

1.01    Government will be aware that the planning system is extremely hierarchical; with powers delegated to LPAs but under supervision by the Communities Secretary/Inspectorate primarily through the examination of development plans and conducting appeals against refusals of permission.  Although those working with the planning system are generally hoping for a period during which there will be no significant (or even minor changes) for them to learn, understand, communicate and implement, the Communities Secretary does have extraordinary power to bring about positive change through what he says and how Inspectors are briefed. Many if not most changes are based on a misunderstanding of how the system could or should work and are often responsible for making things worse rather than better. Government then blames the ‘system’ for these failings and introduces further misjudged changes. Ministers seem incapable of taking or acting on a holistic or systemic view of the existing controls in respect of environmental management.

1.02    The recent successful challenge of West Berks and Reading BC (currently subject to an appeal) to a written ministerial statement which was found to be incompatible with the existing statutory scheme, should be taken as a lesson for Government (and its Ministers) to be sparing with its interventions and ensure that changes are carried out through due process and are compatible with the system as formally established.  This Bill is intended to change the statutory regime and, unlike policy statements, will be harder to correct, will imply legal remedies for failures to carry out duties, and should be the subject of even greater scrutiny to ensure that the changes will bring about the intended improvements to the system and do not just add to the existing confusion and have unfortunate and unintended consequences (see the Judge’s findings in West Berks and Reading BC).

1.03    My first point is that the sections of the Bill addressed below suggest that it has been drafted without adequate understanding of the systemic nature of housing and planning in order to achieve the intended aims and, consequently, it is relatively easy to identify more appropriate ways to improve the existing system(s), mostly based on coherent policies and not legislative change.

1.04    The second fundamental point is that it is extremely unlikely that sufficient housing could be provided of the right quality (inc energy efficiency), of the right size, in the right places and at genuinely affordable prices until the enhanced value of the land being developed is captured for the benefit of both the new and existing residents and businesses that were responsible for creating all the excess above existing use value. That is, the suitability and attractiveness of the location depends substantially on the quality and adequacy of the infrastructure.  The current failure to capture development land value (eg < 200x existing use values) benefits a few hundreds of landowners and disadvantages everybody else. There does not appear to be any electoral disadvantage to capturing development land value (see 2014 report by some Michael Lyons).

1.05    Although a Government that finally understands the necessity of capturing the development land value (see the 1947 Act!) might think that legislation is required (eg a further section to the Bill), again, the Communities Secretary could achieve this through a clear statement about what ‘necessary infrastructure’ implies.  New development should not be permitted which does not provide for all the infrastructure (including the genuinely affordable housing for all the workers which contribute to the local economy and living conditions – teachers, nurses, planners, cleaners, police, road maintenance etc) and put an end to the freeloading that currently characterizes new development.  Describing housing as ‘infrastructure’; is consistent with its recent proposed inclusion in large infrastructure projects. The reasons viability assessments have been required and affordable housing provision has been squeezed are because of inflated land costs. The development industry (those that have not gambled/landbanked at inflated prices), as opposed to landowners, would welcome a substantial reduction in development land values.

1.06    The Government should commission research on the extent to which demand-side initiatives (Help to Buy, Funding for Lending, other discounted purchase schemes inc equity sharing added to Housing Benefit) have contributed to excessive house prices. Such research is essential to understanding whether further such initiatives would be desirable, necessary or counter-productive in the endeavour to provide genuinely affordable housing.

2.         Part 1: New Homes in England  
o Starter Homes
2.01    A systemic view of planning and housing would suggest that this new category (ie 20% discount, <£250k or £450k, for under 40s and refunds up to 5 years) would create a number of false and unhelpful thresholds each of which causes difficulty, distortions and, in implementation, many ‘hard cases’. If the perceived problem is a shortage of small dwellings for sale to young people at prices they can afford there are a number of policies that should be introduced by the Communities Secretary to be included in all development plans (local plans and neighbourhood plans) as supervised by the inspectorate.  Small dwellings are urgently required to balance the size of households and houses throughout the country. There is a particular need to provide attractive options for the 8 million households looking to downsize (see APPG on Housing and the Elderly) and release larger dwellings into the market or back to the registered provider. This would be and obvious systemic approach to meeting the National scarcity of appropriate housing. The current level of under occupation, including empty dwellings, amounts to about 25m spare bedrooms which represent the equivalent of over 10m new small houses. This would be the equivalent of 40 year’s supply – added to the large number of new small dwellings that are needed to trigger this virtuous circle.
-           New developments should be predominantly 2 bedroomed,
-          All larger dwellings should be designed to be easily and cheaply subdivided which no further permission should be required (this permitted development right that should apply to large existing dwellings would require secondary legislation).
-           Permission should be required for all extensions in order to maintain the housing mix of homes in ‘lifetime neighbourhoods’ (the appropriate model rather than lifetime homes), and to maintain the energy efficiency achieved by the original. The Communities Secretary needs to encourage the inclusion of these policies in development plans.
2.02    If “starter homes" are to be provided on discrete sites or part of larger developments there is no good reason why these should substitute for houses at genuinely affordable rent. Neither is it reasonable to expect all other new and existing developments to pay for the necessary infrastructure.
o Self-build and custom house-building
2.03    It has become obvious that the housing market is dysfunctional in a number of ways that are not apparent abroad. One of the unfavourable comparisons is the relatively small scale of self/custom-building which is taking place in this country. It is encouraging to see that this is a matter which is being addressed, but it is incomprehensible that this is through legislation and not changes or additions to Government policy (ie a Ministerial statement to explain para 50 of the NPPF).
2.04.   A consensus seems to have built around the prospect of the larger building companies providing no more new houses than 150,000 per year.  Even this scale building will depend on the number of people being able to afford to buy housing at the inflated prices largely caused by unjustified land values and adjusted to the artificially high (i.e. the price unrelated to the actual cost of building) house prices in the local area.  A similar consensus seems to have identified a need for nearly double that number. Whilst the Government is hoping to see a revival of small building companies, the extra 100,000 dwellings will need a step-change in the process of housing delivery.
2.05    Whilst the proposed Registers of self and group-builders would be important components of the required growth in this sector, the expectation that councils would find adequate and suitable serviced sites is completely unrealistic.  The Bill should make it clear that councils will be expecting a proportion of all sites above 5 dwellings to reserve at least 20% of the plots on all sites (and provide services) for potential self/group-building. Some relatively constrained urban areas will need to be able to commission serviced plots on developments in neighbouring authorities to meet demand expressed through their registers.
2.06    This country also compares unfavourably with most of those in Europe (and the US) in the dearth of opportunities to co-house.  The Bill should clarify that the ‘associations of individuals’ to be helped in finding serviced plots should also be assisted in the provision of the facilities associated with co-housing, including common house, guest accommodation and workspaces.  Planning authorities should be required to keep registers of potential co-housers.
2.07    Whilst it might be unreasonable to exempt self-building and co-housing from making contributions to necessary infrastructure, as such exemptions to apply to social housing, it would be eminently sensible to include self-building and co-housing within the category of “affordable housing"  (already exempt contributions) given that this form of housing can be provided at substantial discounts.  Whether the promotion of self-building and co-housing is carried out through policy pronouncements (preferable) or through this Bill, it will be important to have very clear definitions of each so that any preferential treatment and discounts are properly justified.  Self-building is a more secure means of securing supply as it does not depend on the developer model of drip feeding into a market so as to avoid depressing process.
3.  Rented Housing
o Private rented sector
3.01    This is the growth sector of the housing market principally due to the growth of buy to let.  This sector includes a significant number of the 40% of dwellings which were sold to occupiers under previous 'right to buy’ provisions. As this sector is very likely to continue to make a very significant contribution to housing supply, the conditions applicable to private renters deserve to be given very close attention.  As drafted, the Bill is a missed opportunity to balance out the advantages of renting with those of buying.  The prospect of “fair rents" or “rent controls" is always met with objections based on the possibility that properties will be removed from the private rental market. Whilst this might have happened in the past, there is no reason why this should be the case in the current set of circumstances. Much would depend on the level of rents and the nature of the controls. The former should be based on average income levels and the latter to some appropriate form of index linking. If landlords  decided to take their properties out of the rental market and put them up for sale then this might be a desirable outcome, especially if this increased supply at reduced local prices. These properties could also be bought by Registered Providers.
4.   Social housing in England
o Right to acquire – extending Right to Buy discount levels to housing association tenants
4.01    Given that 40% of dwellings previously sold at a discount now in the private rental sector the Government should be required provide the evidence  which shows that the overall increase in owner occupation implied by this new provision can be maintained. In fact, it is likely that the economic situation/employment conditions would never support more than about 60% level of owner occupation. The precarious nature of current employment would also suggest that this level might even fall further and attempts to raise this back towards 70% are likely to be futile and do nothing more than add to the housing bubble.
4.02    The Government appears to have very limited understanding of the social rental sector. Seeking to control the rents and interfering with their sales can have significant impacts on the financial models of Registered Providers on which their  operations and flourishing depend.  It is quite possible that some Registered Providers are abusing their position and should be the subject of some in-depth investigation backed up by some enforcement powers. However, these are most likely to be required to address some relatively minor matters such as executive pay and not those which compromise the valuable contribution that they are making in the provision of affordable housing.  Registered Providers could also be encouraged (within the Bill if necessary) to contribute to the provision of opportunities for self/group-building and co-housing.
4.03    Whilst this provision should preferably be excluded from the legislation, Registered Providers could be encouraged to sell properties where this is appropriate to the adjustment or restructuring of their stock. A discount on market prices could be reasonable if it reflected the benefit that might accrue to the Registered Provider.
o Vacant high value local authority housing – requiring local authorities to manage their housing assets more efficiently, with the most expensive vacant properties sold and replaced with new affordable housing in the area
4.04    The attempt to link the sale of houses by Registered Providers to be replaced by funds accrued from the sale of high-value local authority housing is both clumsy and counter-productive.  If Registered Providers are required to sell at a discount, they should simply be compensated out of public funds to replace their stock.  Local authorities should not be required to sell properties where a relatively desirable location happens to have contributed to inflated prices. Local authority housing has a utility value in such locations that should be fully respected and protected.
o High income social tenants – requiring tenants in social housing on higher incomes (over £40,000 in London and over £30,000 outside London) to pay market rate, or near market rate, rents
4.05    Whilst there may be some relatively fortunate tenants who are finding their housing costs to be relatively affordable, these are very few in number and of little consequence compared to the extremely large number of owner occupiers in a similar situation, often without any mortgage liability or payments. The proposed regulation would require close and intrusive monitoring of earnings that would be extremely difficult to operate to relatively little advantage. In contrast, a regulation that encouraged downsizing by owner occupiers associated with a deliberate increase in appropriate housing choice, would have a very great social benefit in terms of the efficient use of the housing stock. In fact, such measures could increase the supply of housing at a far greater rate than the building of houses (often on greenfield if not Green belt land).
5.         Planning
Part 6: Planning in England
o Neighbourhood planning – simplifying and speeding up the neighbourhood planning process to support communities that seek to meet local housing and other development needs through neighbourhood planning
5.01    This is another example of tinkering that almost always does more harm than good.  Neighbourhood plans have the status of “development plans" and must, therefore, go through proper scrutiny and due process to avoid injustices (avoid legal challenges) and secure their community benefits.
o Local planning – giving the Secretary of State further powers to intervene if Local Plans are not effectively delivered
5.02    Local planning authorities might appear to be their own worst enemies in the extraordinary delays that have occurred in the production development plans. However, central government should have much greater awareness of the delays that have been caused by their tinkering with the development plan system. It is inconceivable that local plans could be properly and fairly prepared through central intervention.
o Local registers of land and permission in principle – creating a duty for local authorities to hold a register of various types of land, with the intention of creating a register of brownfield land to facilitate unlocking land to build new homes; and giving housing sites identified in the brownfield register, local and neighbourhood plans planning permission in principle, and providing an opportunity for applicants to obtain permission in principle for small scale housing sites
5.03    The system of controlling development through the grant of outline and full permissions with provisions for the submission of reserved matters is entirely satisfactory, sensible and functional. The system also has the advantage of having been fully and rigorously tested through the supervision of the courts. It is also a system with which both public and private sectors are reasonably familiar. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the changes now being proposed would have any advantages in releasing suitable housing land any faster than the existing system operating with the appropriate encouragement of the Communities Secretary.
5.04    Very substantial and compelling evidence should be required before a change of this nature is introduced. In the absence of significant beneficial effects it is unjustifiable to impose such changes on already under resourced planning departments and overworked courts.
o Planning permission etc – levelling up the power which enables conditions to be attached to development orders for physical works so that they are consistent with those for change of use; extending the planning performance regime to apply to smaller applications; and putting the economic benefits of proposals for development before local authority planning committees
5.05  Economic benefits of development are already material considerations taken into account in deciding planning applications. The performance of planning authorities should not be a matter for legislation. Generally, this form of tinkering is almost invariably counter-productive.
o Nationally significant infrastructure projects – allowing developers who wish to include housing within major infrastructure projects to apply for consent under the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime
5.06    It is possible to argue that housing affordable to local people and key workers is part of necessary infrastructure. However, this could be achieved through a ministerial statement rather than a change to the law in respect of the infrastructure planning regime.
6.         Summary

6.01    Most if not all of the provisions of the Bill discussed above are examples of a government's failure to understand the systemic nature of the planning and housing system and the very effective role that can be played by the relevant Ministers.  It is likely that the Communities Secretary and Planning and Housing Minister have a greater knowledge of these systems than the Treasury which seems to be the main driver of change.

6.02    The very contentious and legalistic nature of the planning system requires long periods of stability to operate in a fair and effective manner. Perceived failures to achieve government objectives should be addressed by the Ministers in ways consistent with the existing statutory regime and the National Planning Policy framework.

6.03    Priority should be given to supply-side policies that would provide a better balance between the size of housing and households that is a much fairer and more efficient way of meeting housing needs. 

6.04    Although it would be a relatively simple matter for the relevant ministers to expedite the desirable growth in self/group-building and co-housing (see NPPF para 50), if there must be legislation, it should include detailed definitions (eg incorporating this kind of housing into quotas of “affordable housing") and place obligations on planning authorities and developers to reserve appropriate land on allocated and permitted sites.

Removal of Zero Carbon Homes target

I have just received a response to my request to see the officer advice to ministers behind the decision by the Chancellor and Business Secretary to remove the Zero Carbon Homes  (and Allowable Solutions) target found in their publication "Fixing the Foundations".  I was referred to two well reasoned reports on Allowable Solutions in which I could find no justification for abandoning the ZCH target and a suggestion that the position will be reviewed by 2021 when a recent small upgrading of the building regulations had bedded in.

This is my letter  in response (copied to my MP.

"Dear Mr Hayward

Thank you for your letter in response to my attempt to understand the removal of the Zero Carbon Homes (and Allowable Solutions) by the Chancellor and Business Secretary (I remain unclear what part Mr Clark played in this).

My first reaction is that the two reports on Allowable Solutions have been extremely well argued and presented but do nothing to support the case for lowering of the energy efficiency of new build houses. Quite the opposite.

You then deny me the opportunity to see the advice on which the overarching ministerial advice was based (I assume this to be the Chancellor).

I then have a list of other reasons why this downgrading is so unfortunate without being able to understand if these are point already taken into account.

1.We know from DECC that the UK is seriously below its carbon reduction commitments.
2.We know that agriculture, transport, and manufacturing (inc imports)have next to no chance of contributing to the required carbon reduction targets. Power generation could have done were it not for the Government's recent attack on renewables.  That leaves new buildings that could very easily have moved to carbon negative.
3. The collapse of the Green Deal will leave 80% of the housing stock at the equivalent of EPC D for the foreseeable future.
4.The removal of ZCH and AS will add over a million dwellings by 2021 requiring expensive retrofits to add to the 25million existing.
5.The building industry did not seem best pleased as the 'goal posts' were moved once again but with a suggestion that this might be temporary.  How can they know the price of building land if the implied costs keep changing?
6. Community energy schemes that could have represented 'allowable solutions' are collapsing around the country.
7.One of the most frequently asked questions about new building is why 'the planners' allow new buildings without PV?
8. There is still the 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' in the NPPF. Mr Clark says that the main purpose of the planning system is to achieve sustainable development (as is s39(2) of the 2004 Act) which should not disadvantage future generations. How can they seek to require developments to 'consume their own smoke' in accordance with the Community's Secretaries wishes and their statutory duty whilst being undermined by the Chancellor?

In summary, the refusal to provide the official advice to ministers leaves me with the impression that the retreat on energy efficiency standards has been made for ideological and short term economic reasons in the face of carbon reduction targets and the interests of industry."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Expert Panel on Local Plans

Apologies for posting this after the date for submitting evidence has (just) past but the panel appointed by the Planning and Housing Minister to investigate ways of improving the system of local plan preparation and approval of local plans is now considering the evidence.  

My views were,"The Panel has been set up due to existing problems in the timely approval of development plans.  However, in the pre-occupation with speeding up (and possibly simplifying) the process there is a danger that the system will continue to operate under the conspiracy of silence and avoid the challenge implied by the test of soundness which is compliance with  s39(2) of the 2004 Act.  There are no  development plans that are actually “contributing to the achievement of sustainable development” or following the para 14 of the NPPF/Framework    where development in accordance with the plan would necessarily benefit from the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Development plans are current being produced by local government planners faced with interpretations of the Framework by inspectors and Secretaries of State that have prioritised economic development at the expense of any proper consideration of the social and environmental limbs of sustainability.  The contributions being made by private sector planners through representations during the plan preparation and at the examination are  being made in the interest of clients seeking to advance the prospects of  development giving rise to profits to landowners and builders  under existing models that are adding to the problematic  scale of unsustainable development that will need to be re-visited and fixed before 2050. 

In the context of a s78 appeal  (Ref Appeal Decision APP/N2345/A/12/2169598) an inspector expressed surprise at the lack of help being given to him by the professional experts.  The examiner of the Vale of White Horse Local Plan is being faced with the proposition from the  LPA that the EU and UK  carbon budgets  (under the Climate Change Act and para 94 of the NPPF) are unrealistic, and the need to reduce carbon emissions by about 60% during the plan period should not be an impediment to the  40% planned growth in housing, jobs and associated infrastructure.  The Sustainability Assessment  has identified the ‘negative impacts’  that almost all the proposed development will have on carbon emissions with no ‘major positive’ impact to start the transition to a low carbon economy.  The response from the Inspector was a question as to whether this conundrum had been raised before any othe inquiry/examination?

So when recommendations are being formulated as to how the development plan system might be made more efficient and effective, the Panel should take into account that the new system should deal with the question of how sustainability can be dealt with in development planning an honest way (and in accordance with the first two paragraphs of Greg Clark’s Foreword to the NPPF) that planned development does not make the situation worse for future generations.

I hope that this is interesting if no longer a post that readers can use to join in the debate.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Young Planners

The latest issue of The Planner, the trade magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute was dedicated to the place of young planners in the profession. I have previously blogged about how their views should take precedence over those of older planners who have clearly failed to do the job of helping create environments in town and country suited to the conditions of the 21st century.  Dismay would understate my reaction to the survey made of the opinions of ypung p[lanners and provoked me to write the folowing letter,

"The search for what is wrong with planning  and its future need go no  further than the snap survey reported in The Planner October 2015.  In the answer to “What do you hope to achieve as a planner?” only 32% hoped to ‘encourage social, environmental, and economic wellbeing’ (ie sustainable development), and only 10% hoped to ‘create a sustainable world’. These could be taken as  measures of realism about the limitations on the role of planners, or it could be that, at a very early stage of their careers, a large majority of planners have abandoned  even the hope of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development (ie a duty under s39(2) of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act), and enabling development that would benefit from the presumption in the NPPF."

I don't know the size of the sample or other details that skew the results of a survey but I have to assume that the RTPI/The Planner  expected the readers to give weight to the results.  The most shocking aspect of this result is that the presumption in favour of sustainable development is the only presumption in planning policy and even the 2010/2015 coalition government described this a golden thread running through decision-taking and plan-making.  For young planners to have abandoned hope of doing what is a principal if not the paramount part of their job specification in either public or private sectors suggests that employers and clients  must be exerting undue influence over these young professionals who should be free and able to carry out their job to enable sustainable development to take place.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A local plan examination

I cling on to the belief that the planning system is (potentially)  one of the best ways for ordinary people to engage in the formulation and application of public policy - and in matters of some real importance; the provision of housing, transport and other services.  At the same time I am aware how off-putting the planning system has become.  I am in the process of writing a book aimed at persuading people to be more engaged and was amused by the response from the first publisher - that they did not think that ordinary people were sufficiently interested in participating in the planning system to buy/read a book on the subject.  Is this a circular argument?

Anyway, I am currently making representations to the examination of a local plan and thought that I should share this experience in case others might want to try their luck.  This has meant that a long written submission had been made at the appropriate time explaining why the draft Plan would not 'contribute to the achievement of sustainable development' in accordance with s.39(2) of the 2004 Act - an important test of soundness of the plan. The submissions were condensed once into a Hearing Statement and then further into reasons to attend the oral examination.  Although these are particular to the Vale of White Horse Local Plan they might create a picture of what I have been saying which might encourage others to challenge plans in their area.
"Matter 1

1.2  Is a Sustainability Appraisal  adequate which is behind policies supporting housing substantially in car dependent rural areas,  with minimal specifications for energy efficiency,  unconcerned about orientation, terracing  or the ‘mix’ (ie to balance with size of households) and without sufficient measures to limit the congestion that is making the area progressively unsustainable for new and existing residents and businesses.

1.4(c) The question of compliance with s39(2) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 – and the contribution that the Plan must/would make to the achievement of sustainable development?  Where is the evidence that carbon emissions would be reduced by about 60% by 2031 while housing and jobs would grow by about 40%?  What measures are included in the Plan to contribute to annual carbon reductions of between 6% and 10%?

Matter 2

2.1(a) & (d)         Does the SHMA properly or adequately take account of the level of under-occupation of the existing housing stock (at least if not more important than the numbers of dwellings) and the declining household size?  Does the SHMA explain the potential for meeting the ‘objectively assessed need’ through building smaller dwellings?

The housing need has been assessed over a period of about 16 years covering specific or potential rural locations where there would be a high propensity for people to want to move within their village. Does the Plan make adequate provision for phasing new developments in the rural areas to accommodate these needs?

Matter 3

3.1(a) & (b)         Are there any policies in the Plan that show how the bus services between Abingdon and Didcot can be made a realistic alternative to the car? Or is this area fundamentally unsustainable until such measures are put in place despite the Plan? And should more emphasis be placed on making Didcot an attractive place for residents until the transport system can be made sustainable.

Matter 4

In the context of local and national support for both self-building (that can deliver housing above that which the housebuilders are prepared to provide) and reference in the SHMA to something like co-housing (senior co-housing would be part of the sustainable provision for potential downsizers) is the Plan adequate to deliver these choices (as per NPF para 50)?  

NB    The plan not been positively prepared nor sound as sustainable development is more likely to occur in spite of the Plan rather than due to its policies.  The clear evidence from recent developments in the area is that developers are not building sustainably and will require strong policies in the development plan to do so. But,
·       The Plan does not include a strategy which seeks to meet objectively assessed requirements of the Climate Change Act and the related carbon reduction budgets.
·       The Plan is not justified because it is not based on the logical implications of the Climate Change Act for the development of land and buildings over the next 15 years. (ie between 6% and 10% annual reductions)
·       The Plan is not based on robust and credible evidence that relates to the necessary reduction in carbon emissions from existing land and buildings as well as all new development.
·       The Plan will not be effective due to the failure to understand the repercussions of the statutory and advisory carbon reduction targets.
·       The development supported by the Plan will not be deliverable in accordance with the criteria in the Plan. Development would need to accord with criteria not included in the Plan in order to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.
·       The Plan is not flexible in the sense that it would need substantial change to be contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.
·       It would not be possible to monitor the contribution it is making to the achievement of sustainable development as it lacks the necessary criteria (eg carbon reduction targets and rates) to carry out that fundamental exercise
·       The Plan is not consistent with national policy in respect of carbon reductions or the Climate Change Act (see NPPF paras 14 and 94)."

(The All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People found that 8 million people over 60 would be interested in downsizing if the right option was available. Two thirds of whom occupy homes of three or more bedrooms. (Guardian social housing supplement 2015 09 23). Even the Daily Mail is on the case (2015 09 17).)

The inspector seemed to be interested in these submissions and invited me to kick-off the discussions about the sustainability assessment.  I have been in the situation many times where an Inspector appears to be paying a great deal of respect to what I am saying, but only in order to avoid any challenge that I was not given a 'fair hearing', and not with any real intention of giving weight to submissions that could threaten the planning system 'as we know it'.

In this case the inspector was most interested in whether I had objected to any other local plans on a similar basis - rather than questioning the merits of the case.  In fact the QC acting for the Local Planning authority was given the opportunity to rebut the case that the plan did not satisfy s39(2), a response that I don't think made any sense to the Inspector.

This Post is a call to arms so that other inspectors around the country are faced with challenges to local plans (and appeals in respect of development proposals) so that they do not feel isolated in applying the presumption in favour of sustainable development (ie the need to consume its own smoke) in a meaningful way, and not that adopted by the previous Government (we do not know whether Greg Clark is going to be true to his word (see Foreword to NPPF).